Air Travellers Demand Fare Transparency


A new survey of more than 1,000 air travellers found overwhelming support for a proposed U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule requiring airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments with travel agents and travel web sites, with 88% saying that requirement was “very” or “extremely” important.

By a broad 71% to 13% margin, consumers also said the rule should be strengthened to require airlines to sell their basic ancillary fees wherever they sell their tickets.

Conducted by Open Allies for Airfare Transparency in co-ordination with Travelers United (formerly the Consumer Travel Alliance), the survey found significant traveller frustration and confusion with current airline practices. Two-thirds (63%) of air travellers indicated that it is very or extremely inconvenient to have to take the multiple steps required to buy ancillary services today, while 81% called current airline practices on fees “unfair and deceptive” for not allowing travellers to see or purchase fees at all points of sale.

“To protect air travel consumers, we need to fix the significant problems they face in searching, comparing, and buying ancillary fees, which have become ubiquitous in the airline industry,” said Andrew Weinstein, executive director of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, a coalition of more than 400 companies and organizations involved in the distribution or purchase of air travel. “The proposed DOT rule gets almost halfway there by requiring airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments, but it fails to address the intertwined issue of how to buy those services at the time of ticket purchase. Playing peek-a-boo with prices will not address the underlying consumer harm, unless travellers can purchase those fees wherever they buy their tickets.”

According to the survey, consumer confusion over this issue is significant, with nearly three-quarters of respondents (72%) saying they believed “transparent pricing” would include the ability to purchase the service at that same time as tickets.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • More than half of air travellers (55%) said they had been surprised by additional fees after they had purchased their tickets.
  • Two-thirds of travellers (63%) said that it is “very” or “extremely” inconvenient to have to take multiple steps to buy the ancillary services they need.
  • Roughly half (47%) said it has become “very difficult” or “nearly impossible” for them to search and find the lowest fare for air travel across airlines, including fees.
  • Four out of five (81%) said that current airline practices on fees are “unfair and deceptive.”
  • The overwhelming majority (88%) said the DOT’s proposed rule to require airlines to share baggage and seat assignment fees is “very” or “extremely” important for travellers.
  • More than 80% said DOT should expand the rule to cover at least one other type of ancillary fee, including cancellation fees (68%), change fees (64%), and priority boarding fees (49%).
  • By nearly a 6-1 margin (71% to 13%), travellers said airlines should be required to sell their fees wherever they sell their tickets.

“This survey dramatically underscores the continuing confusion consumers face when dealing with the universe of fees that airlines have created,” said Charlie Leocha, chairman, Travelers United, an advocacy group focused on travel issues. “Comparison shopping is the basis for the free market. By hiding the prices of baggage, seat-reservation and others services, airlines are deceiving consumers by only advertising and disclosing partial costs of travel.”